Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

Knowing to (act): Confucian situationist epistemology

The Lunyu’s conversations highlight and advocate a wide variety of the junzi’s commitments, dispositions, efficacy, responsiveness, and so on. Many of these focus on a person’s encounters with situations and, therein, one’s appropriate responses to the question, or undertaking of the task, at hand. From an epistemological point of view, how might we best capture these situationist capabilities and competencies?

There are at least three ways of making sense of the junzi’s situationist capacities/knowledge. There are probably more conceptual frameworks, including some plausible combinations of the three below:

(I) The knowing-how route

This account grows out from the knowing-how/knowing-that distinction. Here, we could cast the junzi’s capacities as practical, in-situ, knowledge, or knowledge manifest in situations. Generally, the focus of accounts set out within this framework would include parameters such as competence, practice, and reliability, to name a few. Of course, there can be more subtle versions of this approach, including those that shatter the dichotomy of knowing-how/knowing that. Included in these approaches is the ‘knowing-to act in the moment’ account that I have argued for (which can be both act- and agent-centred).

(II) The pragmatism route

Here, again, there is a focus on the practical and, indeed, the contextual element. This account dwells centrally on encounters with and/or responses to particular situations. The vocabulary for a pragmatist account of Confucianist epistemology could include: imaginative encounters in context, inquiry and problem-solving, and reinventing tradition. Could it be that the pragmatist route is, in some versions of pragmatism, only programmatic? I ask this question because I’m not sure.

(III) Virtue epistemology

This framework, arising from the impetus to represent Confucian ethics as virtue ethics, has attracted some concerns that a situationist epistemology is incompatible with a virtues-based approach to character. There have been some attempts to deal with that in the literature, especially from a Confucian perspective. (I personally think this is not an insurmountable problem for Confucian ethics). Does this account ‘capture’ Confucian epistemology better than the other two?

 

I’m keen to find out: (a) whether there are other viable conceptual schemes for a situationist epistemology; and (b) whether there are good reasons to think why any one of these, or some such combination, is more plausible than others (and, for that matter, weaknesses in these different accounts).

Amongst other things, I’m curious about the overlaps across these frameworks and I wonder if scholars working within some of them (myself included) might be re-inventing the wheel by not investigating more broadly. If so, might this be a case of philosophy’s fragmentation into many sub-areas that don’t necessarily speak to each other—with significant implications for those of us in comparative philosophical research.

Hannah Pang detail

August 17th, 2013 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学 | 20 comments

20 Responses to Knowing to (act): Confucian situationist epistemology

  1. Bill Haines says:

    Hi Karyn,

    What a great post! Thank you. I have some trouble understanding it; maybe because I haven’t been following the relevant literature. I’m hoping you can help me—I’ll try to set out in a very careful plodding way the shape of my failure to understand.

    1. Actions ≠ capacities ≠ dispositions

    You write:

    Many of these focus on a person’s encounters with situations and, therein, one’s appropriate responses to the question, or undertaking of the task, at hand. From an epistemological point of view, how might we best capture these situationist capabilities and competencies?

    I want to be clear about the following distinctions. These three things are not conceptually the same:

    a) someone’s actions of kind K in situations of kind S
    b) someone’s capacity (=ability, =competence) to perform actions of kind K in situations of kind S
    c) someone’s disposition (= tendency) to perform actions of kind K in situations of kind S

    Of course, dispositions can imply capacities (or involve capacities, or be assisted by capacities). For example, the disposition to X implies the capacity to X. But the capacity to X doesn’t imply the disposition to X.

    (I think I may have said in one or more of our earlier discussions that in English, “know to” refers to a disposition rather than a mere capacity. I’m inclined to doubt that now.)

    We can also distinguish between (c) and

    d) someone’s pre-deliberative disposition (=tendency before deliberation) to perform actions of kind K in situations of kind S

    I believe it is uncontroversial that ‘virtues’ refers to (c) dispositions. That is, to say that someone has a “virtue” is to say that she has a disposition. (It also implies and suggests that she has various associated capacities. But obviously, the capacity to do K in S does not imply the disposition or tendency to do K in S.)

    2. What does “situationist” mean?

    It seems to me that everyone who talks or writes about any area of knowledge or practice talks about appropriate responses to questions or tasks that may arise—that is, “one’s appropriate responses to the question, or undertaking of the task, at hand.”

    So far as I know, there are two standard uses of the term ‘situationist’.

    Situationism1.

    I believe Joseph Fletcher introduced the term “situation ethics” and hence “situationism” to refer to the denial that there are highly reliable mid-level moral rules—though not to deny that there is an articulable overall account of right and wrong. A utilitarian, for example, could be a “situationist” in the sense of denying that there are highly reliable mid-level moral rules.

    Of course, many of the familiar mid-level rules that people have in mind when they think of mid-level moral rules are rules that of the form “In situation S, do D.” Here are some examples from the Ten Commandments:

    a. If it’s the Sabbath, don’t work.
    b. If P is your parent, honor P.
    c. When X is not yours, don’t take X.
    d. When X is not yours, don’t covet X.
    e. When you are married to P,
    don’t have sex with someone other than P.

    Everybody who thinks there are moral rules thinks that what we should do depends on the situation in that sense. Thinking what we should do depends on the situation in that sense isn’t any kind of situationism1; indeed it isn’t any kind of situationism. Rather, situationism1 is the view that there isn’t even that kind of reliable moral rule; there aren’t any reliable mid-level moral rules.

    Situationism2.

    I think the term ‘situationism’ is more recently used to describe a view of psychology associated with a challenge to virtue theory. Virtue theory may be thought to rely on the idea that humans can have (morally impressive) habitual dispositions: habits of responding in certain kinds of ways to certain kinds of situations before one thinks too hard about it–that is, morally good and bad dispositions of type (d). “Situationists” of this sort think virtue theorists overemphasize habituation and (I guess) nonverbal aspects of moral thought.

    That’s pretty much all I know about situationism2. I think situationists2 believe that actions can be good or bad, right or wrong. I don’t know whether they believe there can be people who are good or bad: I mean, people who not only have acted well in the past, but can reasonably be expected to act well in future.

    I think a situationist2 can think there are good people, if she can grant the following three propositions:

    i) There are such things as intellectual habits (I mean, say, tendencies, from statement P, to infer Q rather than R).
    ii) There is such a thing as having the habit of thinking about what to do (in light of one’s views about morality).
    iii) There are fairly reliable mid-level moral rules.

    Indeed, if a situationist2 believes (i)(ii)(iii), she will also believe that there are virtues: morally good dispositions. But she will probably believe that virtues are best understood and explained by looking at rules and reasons, not the psychology of habits and perception.

    Situationism1 is a view in ethics. Situationism2 is a view in psychology. You use the term ‘situationist epistemology’. A google search leads me to think that your post is one of the first places where the phrase has appeared. What do you mean by it?

    You use the phrases ‘situationist capability’ and ‘situationist capacity’. I don’t know what you mean. Maybe by a “situationist capacity to do D” you simply mean a limited capacity to do D? —limited in the sense that there are some situations in which I cannot do D? I guess you mean something else, but I don’t know what.

    3. What is to be explained?

    When you write, “There are at least three ways of making sense of the junzi’s situationist capacities/knowledge,” I’m not sure what it is that we’re trying to explain or describe.

    The language you choose suggests that you mean to draw attention to the point that you are not directly talking about ways of explaining the junzi’s virtue: her disposition or tendency to act well in the situations at hand. Is that right?

    You might mean:

    (A) “Some part of (or contributor to) the junzi’s virtue is called ‘knowledge’. How should we describe that ‘knowledge’?”

    This is a question about how ‘知’ is used in some text(s). Question (A) does not use the English word ‘knowledge’; thus it does not directly ask about knowledge.

    Or you might mean:

    (B) “Some part of (or contributor to) the junzi’s virtue is knowledge. How should we describe or explain that knowledge?”

    Question (B) does not ask about Confucian uses of terms like ‘知’. Rather, it simply uses the English word ‘knowledge’. It asks about knowledge, and does not directly express any interest in ‘知’ insofar as that might diverge in meaning from the English word.

    Maybe you mean to be asking both (A) and (B)? And then there might be different answers.

    Neither question seems to make any assumption about whether the “knowledge” it is asking about is a disposition or a mere capacity. But perhaps you do mean to be making such an assumption.

    Insofar as your question is (A), are you assuming that ‘知’ names a mere capacity?

    Insofar as your question is (B), are you assuming that knowledge is a mere capacity?

    4. What are the candidate explanations?

    I don’t understand your presentations of (I), (II), and (III). But I think I should stop here for now.

    Reply
    • karynlai says:

      Thanks for your wonderfully perceptive comments, Bill, which have helped my thinking quite a bit already.

      I’ll cover your questions 1 and 2 together, then part of 2, and 3 & 4, together.

      Act and situation (Qs 1 & 2)

      At the entry level, the Lunyu‘s conversations capture acts—whether they be what someone did, or how someone responded, in a particular situation. So actions and situations are my starting point. I use ‘act’ and ‘situation’ descriptively, arising from the nature of the text. From the conversations, we might say that a person—for the purposes of conversation, let’s just focus on the junzi—has:

      (i) a particular/some set of disposition/s
      (ii) a particular/some set of virtue/s
      (iii) a particular/some set of capacity/ies

      …and the list could include others (e.g. a particular/some set of expertise); we could go finer-grained or more coarse-grained (e.g. a particular/some set of knowledge)

      So, on the basis of the conversations in the Lunyu, there is a range of ways in which we may make sense of the junzi(‘s life). Which one of these best captures what’s going on in and behind those conversations/acts/situations?

      As you’ve already picked up, there can be overlaps and interchangeability in the way we use some of the terms set out in (i)-(iii). For example, you suggest in your comments that ‘virtues’ refers to ‘dispositions’. The crux, for me, is that different terms that we use—virtues, dispositions, etc—arise from different conceptual frameworks, and I’m trying to work out, if possible, the best-fitting framework that portrays the person responsible for these act-and-situation-centred actions. This takes me to my responses to your Qs 2, 3 & 4.

      Which conceptual framework best captures what goes on in the Lunyu?

      If we hold that the life of the junzi is best characterised by a dispositional account, we could use the know-how/know-that framework and, within that, articulate the place of dispositions in a knowing-how frame.
      Alternatively, if we, as you suggest, understand ‘virtues’ as ‘dispositions,’ then we could cash out the junzi‘s life as one grounded in virtue and therefore use the vocabulary of virtue ethics/virtue epistemology to help us understand what it’s all about. Here is one question you ask, and my response:

      Bill: “The language you choose suggests that you mean to draw attention to the point that you are not directly talking about ways of explaining the junzi’s virtue: her disposition or tendency to act well in the situations at hand. Is that right?”

      Karyn: Yes. ‘Virtue’ uses the vocabulary of just one of the frameworks to explain the junzi’s actions and how they sit within her life more generally. You’ve also teased out some finer points in your Q3. However, my interest at this point is not simply in 知, in the same way it is not focused specifically on virtue.

      In my original post, (I) the knowing-how route, (II) the pragmatism route, and (III) virtue epistemology, were suggested as different frameworks within which we could ‘fit’ or situate an account of the Confucian junzi and his/her actions. Obviously, the different frameworks have different assumptions and one worry is that some assumptions might misshapen or shortchange Confucian philosophy.

      Finally, on the point of ‘situationist epistemology,’ in my mind, it sits most comfortably within (I) the knowing-how route, where the concern is not, primarily, virtue, but whether and how there is a form of knowing that properly articulates the nexus of agent-in-action right there, in the situation.

      Reply
  2. Steve Angle says:

    Hi Karyn,

    You (and Bill) have raised some really interesting issues. I’m intrigued by the idea of trying to figure out how best to frame what’s going on in the texts: it seems that you’re open to an unusually broad range of possibilities, which is terrific. But also challenging, since some key words probably mean different things within different frames. A couple random points that initially occur to me:

    (1) I have paid a bit of attention to recent efforts to bring analytic “virtue epistemology” to bear on Chinese texts. One thing that has struck me is that there may be a real disconnect, in that many of the virtue epistemologists (esp. Ernie Sosa and those following him) basically view their subject as talking about how various competences (and so on) lead us to believe true things. Whereas I am not confident that epistemology in this sense was significant to early Confucians (even though they certainly could and did believe plenty of true things). I have the sense that Linda Zagzebski’s approach may represent a more radical departure, and may be more promising therefore.

    (2) Let me echo some of Bill’s questions about the use of “situationist” and “situationist epistemology.” I think I understand what you mean by saying that situations are prominent in the text, but given the ways that “situationist” is used in at least some contexts today, I found your use of it confusing. Would “particularist” work instead? In that you are interested in responses to particular situations, as opposed to general principles?

    I’ll think more about the questions you’ve raised, but that’s at least a start….

    Reply
    • karynlai says:

      Steven, thank you! Very helpful comments.

      (1) Several other people have pointed me toward Zagzebski’s work, and I need to get on to that. If you can articulate the reasons why, I’d be very keen to hear!

      (2) I want to avoid the label ‘particularism’ because I want to say, at the end of the day, that the acts/situations belong to or ensue from an agent/actor (for want of better terms at this point).

      Reply
    • Steve Angle says:

      Hi Karen,

      On (1): I don’t know Zagzebski’s work well, so I’m not the best source. But my sense is that her approach to the relation of epistemology to virtues is more holistic than someone like Sosa’s. Sosa gave a talk at the Rutgers conference on Chinese philosophy last spring, and this is how he sees things. He distinguished between “theory of knowledge” and “intellectual ethics.” The former is focused on how we acquire true beliefs, and his version of virtue epistemology fits into this category, since it looks at the competences (etc.) needed to acquire true beliefs. Intellectual ethics, on the other hand, is a broader concerns with, among other things, virtues that have a supportive role, vis-a-vis “theory of knowledge”: the virtues on which it focuses may help one to cultivate the competences (like perception, memory, reasoning) that actually lead to true belief. Keep in mind that this is probably not how Zagzebski herself (who does “intellectual ethics,” in Sosa’s view) would carve up the terrain!

      (2) The idea that “situations belong to an agent” is intriguing. My sense is that what many psychologists would say today is that there is something of a dialectical relation between agents and situations: to some degree, they belong to one another. One good route into this literature is Nancy Snow’s book _Virtue as Social Intelligence_.

      Reply
      • karynlai says:

        Thanks for the tips, Steve. Much appreciated!

        Reply
  3. Bill Haines says:

    Thanks Karyn! Much appreciated. I want to echo Steve’s point that it’s terrific to raise such big questions, and I’m intrigued. Still, I’m mostly puzzled. I’m afraid that my follow-up questions here may simply distract from the more important business of spelling out further what (I)(II)(III) are, and I do hope we get to that soon. Anyway, here goes this.

    One question I think you’ve answered very clearly and well: The thing to be explained or rather described, is the junzi—what it is to be a junzi, according to the Lunyu.

    K: I use ‘act’ and ‘situation’ descriptively, arising from the nature of the text.

    I hadn’t asked about the terms ‘act’ and ‘situation’, because I didn’t find them obscure; but now I am puzzled. First, I don’t know what the alternative to using the terms “descriptively” might be.

    Second, it seems to me that unlike most Western books in ethics, the Lunyu does not highlight the notion of an act or the notion of a situation—and I don’t just mean that it doesn’t seem to have words for those abstractions. I think Chris Fraser’s paper “Action and Agency in Early Chinese Thought” is very helpful in this connection.

    What features of the Lunyu are you basing this on?

    You write:

    At the entry level, the Lunyu‘s conversations capture acts—whether they be what someone did, or how someone responded, in a particular situation. So actions and situations are my starting point.

    But it seems to me that when the Lunyu discusses the junzi , the remarks are usually very directly about general character traits and attitudes, i.e. dispositions, rather than particular acts or situations. So that looks like the entry level to me.

    You write:

    The crux, for me, is that different terms that we use—virtues, dispositions, etc—arise from different conceptual frameworks

    If we hold that the life of the junzi is best characterised by a dispositional account, we could use the know-how/know-that framework and, within that, articulate the place of dispositions in a knowing-how frame.

    Alternatively, if we, as you suggest, understand ‘virtues’ as ‘dispositions,’ then we could cash out the junzi‘s life as one grounded in virtue and therefore use the vocabulary of virtue ethics/virtue epistemology to help us understand what it’s all about.

    What special connection do you see between dispositions and knowing-how? And what obstacle is there to connecting virtues with knowing-how?

    I think what it is to be a junzi has to involve virtues, because “virtues” means good qualities; a moral virtue is a morally good quality, a morally admirable quality.
    I think talking or even theorizing about virtues doesn’t mean being a “Virtue Theorist” any more than talking about pleasure makes one a utilitarian. Any kind of ethicist can talk about virtues, and most kinds of ethicist think there are virtues. “Virtue Theory” is supposed to be a special approach to ethics that gives a specially central theoretical role to the notion of a moral virtue. “Virtue Theory” has often been contrasted with consequentialism and “deontology,” and that contrast is 90% of what gave the term ‘Virtue Theory’ its meaning in the first place. Crudely: the picture was that consequentialists think ethical theory should start from fundamental principles about consequences, deontologists think ethical theory should start from fundamental principles about duties, and Virtue Theorists think that ethical theory should start from fundamental ideas about virtues. (Also Virtue Theorists seem to think that happiness is the exercise of moral virtue, which I think is just implausible. I think that idea gets associated with Virtue Theory because VT is kind of desperate for things that could be called theoretical ideas, and because it’s in Aristotle.) But I think that contrast was never thought to imply that consequentialists and deontologists don’t or can’t think there are moral virtues.

    I said that ‘virtues’ refers to dispositions. Of course I meant that all (moral) virtues are dispositions, not that all dispositions are (moral) virtues. I may have been wrong to say that all (moral) virtues are dispositions. For that and other reasons I’ll explain further what I had in mind.

    First, since some readers here may not be familiar with the technical term, I want to clarify what I mean by ‘dispositions’, and the distinction between dispositions and abilities. An ability is about what you can do; a disposition is about what you will do (or at least about what you will probably do) in one or another situation. The standard simple picture of a description of a disposition is something like this: “Whenever P is in situation S, P will do X.” A standard example is that water-solubility is a disposition of salt: “When in water, salt will dissolve.”

    (Karyn, do you mean something different by the word ‘disposition’?)

    In general, moral virtues, such as trustworthiness and most of the others that seem to make up the core of what it is to be a junzi, seem to be about what you will do, or what you will probably do, not just about what you can do. For example: if you have made a promise, you will keep it. To be trustworthy, it’s not enough that you’re able to keep your promises; you have to actually do it. You have to be the kind of person who actually will, or who very probably will.

    (Obviously moral virtues imply certain capacities. You aren’t really kind if you are quite unable to tell what helps and what hurts. But what kindness is is a disposition rather than a mere ability or competence.)

    Aristotle says that moral virtues are dispositions, not just abilities. But maybe there are some mere capacities that are morally admirable. In that case we should not say that all moral virtues are dispositions rather than mere capacities.

    In sum, I don’t think the terms “virtue” and “disposition” and “capability” mark different theoretical frameworks for understanding the junzi, any more than “size” and “shape” and “material composition” mark different theoretical frameworks for understanding engine parts. People using any theoretical framework need all three of those ideas all the time.

    I want to say more about this, and qualify my broad generalizations, but instead for now I’ll move on to other things.

    “situationist capability/capacity” and “situationist epistemology”

    I think I haven’t made it clear how complete is my lack of understanding of these terms. I’ll try to be clearer about that here. I don’t understand these terms at all. I think they are terms you have invented and are introducing now. Would you please define these phrases?

    I asked earlier, and you answered:

    Finally, on the point of ‘situationist epistemology,’ in my mind, it sits most comfortably within (I) the knowing-how route, where the concern is not, primarily, virtue, but whether and how there is a form of knowing that properly articulates the nexus of agent-in-action right there, in the situation.

    Here you speak of a concern about whether there might be a form of knowing that articulates (is?) what it is for someone to do something. (Surely the answer is No?) You don’t say whether “situationist epistemology” is the effort to answer that question, or whether “situationist epistemology” is that study of that form of knowing in case it exists. You might mean to suggest the latter: that “situationist epistemology” is the study of the form of knowing (if any) that articulates (is?) what it is for someone to do something. Is that what you mean?

    Or maybe “situationist epistemology” is the theory of some particular actual kind of knowledge or knowing, such as:

    a. Knowledge every person has whenever she does something.
    b. Knowledge every person should have whenever she does something.
    c. Any knowing that is influencing, has influenced, or is likely to influence what the knower does sometime.
    d. Knowledge that is relevant to someone’s action.
    e. Knowing that is relevant to the knower’s action.
    f. Knowledge about the situation(s) the knower is in.
    g. Knowing how.
    hij. Knowing to, knowing of, familiarity with.

    Or maybe by “situationist epistemology” you mean a certain kind of approach in epistemology in general.

    For example, by analogy with Fletcher’s usage, “situationist epistemology” might be epistemology based on the denial that there are any reliable mid-level epistemological rules. (Steve, I wonder whether “particularist X-ology” is a contradiction in terms, for all X?)

    Or by analogy with Doris’s ideas, “situationist epistemology” might be a negative view: that virtue epistemology is an unpromising approach to epistemology because humans don’t have general intellectual habits.

    Or maybe all my guesses are way off the mark.

    And again: what do you mean by “stituationist capability”?

    Reply
    • karynlai says:

      Hello Bill, thank you for your generosity in considering the questions.

      Act and situation

      The ‘entry level’ I mean refers to what we read when we look at passages in the Lunyu. In its passages where the junzi figures, there are probably as many references to general dispositions as there are to specific actions/responses. I agree that the text does not have any single Chinese term that refers to ‘act,’ and that’s exactly what I mean when I say I use them in the descriptive sense—I’m trying to avoid theorising ‘act,’ or suggesting there is a theory of ‘acts’ behind the conversations.

      Virtues and dispositions

      Bill: What special connection do you see between dispositions and knowing-how? And what obstacle is there to connecting virtues with knowing-how?

      On dispositions and knowing-how: some proportion of the literature on know-how explains know-how in terms of dispositions. There’s no special connection. It’s just one way to cash out know-how. Another, for example, is ability.

      On dispositions and virtue: thanks for the clarification re what you mean. In the comparative philosophical literature, I do see quite a few attempts to express elements of Confucian philosophy as virtue ethics; the telltale sign, of course, is when Confucian philosophy is compared with Aristotelian ethics.

      My reason for raising the point that disposition can figure in knowing-how, and that they can also figure in a virtues-based account, is to demonstrate that different frameworks can use the same vocabulary—as Steve is also keen to point out. (Yes, our notions of ‘dispositions’ are fairly similar). So I’m not, at this point, championing one or another account but simply wanting to investigate the vocabulary we use when we ‘translate’ Lunyu ideas into English/western philosophical categories.

      Bill: In sum, I don’t think the terms “virtue” and “disposition” and “capability” mark different theoretical frameworks for understanding the junzi, any more than “size” and “shape” and “material composition” mark different theoretical frameworks for understanding engine parts.

      I agree completely. What I am interested in is how they are used in these frameworks or, indeed, in other frameworks. Hence the exploration.

      Situationist epistemology

      I don’t have a theory behind this phrase. I use it in to query whether there is some theory of knowledge that allows us to understand appropriate action taken in particular situations. Let’s take Lunyu 11.22 as a case in point: Confucius gave different answers to Zilu and Ranyou. Here, we assume that he does this authoritatively, and appropriately, in the answer he gives to Gong Xi Hua. It would be acceptable, I think, to suggest that this is a situation in which Confucius demonstrates 知人. A situationist epistemology *might* account for how 知人 unpacks in a wide range of different situations, this being just one among them. A situationist capacity might be an account of how a person has/develops a capacity for acting appropriately/successfully (whatever the terms of reference are) in particular situations. (Just because we say that someone ‘knows how to X’ doesn’t mean that they will always and in every situation X appropriately or correctly. Or just because we say someone has a particular virtue, doesn’t mean that that virtue is necessarily manifest in every encounter.)

      In thinking about your comments, which are incredibly helpful, I suspect that you think I have a more developed view/theory than I do. Really, my post is exploratory rather than developed.

      Reply
  4. Bill Haines says:

    1 – different frameworks

    OH! I’m sorry, Karyn! When you wrote, “The crux, for me, is that different terms that we use—virtues, dispositions, etc—arise from different conceptual frameworks,” I mistakenly thought you meant that our several terms use different frameworks from each other, whereas in fact you meant that our terms, being different from Chinese terms, are likely use different conceptual frameworks from what the Analects uses!

    And when you contrasted “If we hold …” with “Alternatively, if…”,—I mistakenly thought you meant to be displaying how our different words suggest different conceptual frameworks from each other, whereas in fact you were displaying how our words are each neutral as among the three approaches you were proposing!

    I think the words are also neutral as between today’s Anglophone ethicists and the Lunyu. The Lunyu often speaks quite plainly of dispositions. For example, 3.7 tells us that in the situation where the junzi is engaged in an archery competition, he does this and that.

    I’ve probably misunderstood you in lots of other ways. I apologize for that. Mostly I think I just don’t understand. I’ll continue in my admittedly blockheaded ways.

    (You write, “Just because we say that someone ‘knows how to X’ doesn’t mean that they will always and in every situation X appropriately or correctly.” I don’t know whether you thought I was making that mistake, or thought I thought you were making the mistake! Anyway I guess it’s obvious to both of us that saying you ‘know how to X’ doesn’t imply that you have ever Xed at all, will ever X, or would ever X under any realistic circumstances. Suppose, for example, X is “torture your children.”)

    2 – Lunyu and junzi

    Regarding the Lunyu, you write:

    In its passages where the junzifigures, there are probably as many references to general dispositions as there are to specific actions/responses.

    I’m not sure what you mean. Just now I went through all the passages using ‘junzi’ in the first five Books, and found this:

    1.1 attitudinal disposition (not angry when unnoticed)
    1.2 action? (attending to the root). Virtues
    1.8 virtues, or nothing.
    1.14 dispositions: his aims when doing this or that
    2.12 general quality: not a utensil
    2.13 na
    2.14 general qualities
    3.7 dispositions (doesn’t compete except in archery, how he behaves then)
    3.24 na
    4.5 general quality or project (clings to virtue)
    4.10 general practices, attitudes, values
    4.11 general attitudes
    4.16 general quality
    4.24 general attitude
    5.3 n/a
    5.16 general qualities

    3 – “situationist epistemology”

    “Situationist epistemology”—OK, you are saying there’s nothing called “situationism” involved.

    K: I use it to query whether there is some theory of knowledge that allows us to understand appropriate action taken in particular situations.

    There are two ways to parse this, depending on whether the subject of “allows” is supposed to be “knowledge” or “theory of knowledge”. So it could mean that “SE” stands for

    a) whatever theory of knowledge allows us to understand appropriate action, or
    b) the theory of whatever knowledge allows us to understand appropriate action

    But I think you might mean “SE” stands for one of these instead:

    c1) the theory of the kinds of knowing (if any) that are integral to appropriate action.
    c2) the theory of the special kinds of knowing (if any) that are integral to appropriate action.

    The reason to distinguish these is that it seems obvious that all kinds of knowing have roles to play in appropriate action, so that if “SE” stands for c1, there isn’t much of a distinction between “SE” and epistemology in general.

    Definition (c2) hopes that one or more kinds of knowing feature centrally and saliently in appropriate action and not so much elsewhere.

    I don’t see how “taken in particular situations” adds anything that isn’t already fully logically implied in the shorter phrase “appropriate action.” All action is in particular situations. (Indeed, the reference to situations migh tend to suggest that the focus is on actions rather than activities—a suggestion I think you want to avoid.) Wouldn’t it be clearer to drop “situationist” from “SE” and call it instead “the epistemology of the knowing, if any, that is special to appropriate action,” or more simply, “the epistemology of the good person’s knowing” (see section 5 below)?

    If there is such a category of knowing(s) as (c2) envisions, I imagine it would be defined mainly by special topics or contents, rather than by special forms of knowing. But I don’t know, and the question looks to me like a very interesting and very important one.

    4 – can’t be wrong

    I think the core concern of epistemology in general has been about the supposed risk-free quality of knowledge. If something is known, it can’t be wrong (thanks to Steve Rieber for the phrase): how should we conceive and explain that? I think that perhaps the phrases ‘know how’ and ‘know to’ and ‘know of’ similarly suggest some kind of “can’t be wrong.”

    I submit that the notion of “appropriate action” carries no suggestion. Action can be appropriate by accident. That’s some reason to think that no kind of knowing is in general essential to appropriate action.

    5 – appropriate

    Is that last point the same as the question of “moral luck”? That depends on how we’re to understand “appropriate.”

    Was it Roger Ames who originally suggested that term as (i) a translation of yi 義, and/or as (ii) the English representation of the most general evaluative concept in early Chinese philosophy, and/or as a good term to use as (iii) our most general evaluative term?

    For the first two uses, I don’t think any term is quite adequate. (For the third use, the correct word is ‘good’.) I think the drawbacks of ‘appropriate’ for all three uses are important and underappreciated.

    The standard sort of case in which we use the words ‘appropriate’ and ‘inappropriate’ are when we’re talking about choices that are not terribly important, and where the main kind of correctness or incorrectness, goodness or badness, that is at issue is either stylistic fit or accord with special cultural or institutional rules. Sexual suggestion is inappropriate in the workplace. Flowery hats are inappropriate in the workplace. Using the word ‘appropriate’ for yi 義, or for evaluation in general, tends to suggest, I think, that nothing we might do is very important or urgent, and that goodness is merely relative to culture or to whatever ends have been locally adopted.

    6 – back to “can’t be wrong”

    Some views of morality seem to fit the supposed “can’t be wrong” aspect of knowledge. Of course I’m thinking of the denial of moral luck: the idea that whether an action is morally good or bad depends on the agent’s quality of will or decision procedure, or whatever cognition happens in her that keeps her doing whatever she’s doing; so that there is no such thing as an action’s turning out to be moral or immoral because of external facts beyond the agent’s ken.

    There is at least some basis for arguing that the word “moral” carries such a suggestion (which would support the hope that there might be a kind of “knowing” that is special to being moral).

    Offhand it seems that there is no basis for arguing that the word “appropriate” carries such a suggestion. Appropriateness can be luck. What do you think?

    So maybe “situationist epistemology” would be a more promising field if we defined it in terms of moral action rather than appropriate action?

    Offhand it seems to me that emphasizing situations tends to increase the suggestion that luck can be involved.

    7 – 知 and 11.22

    You write:

    Let’s take Lunyu 11.22 as a case in point: Confucius gave different answers to Zilu and Ranyou. Here, we assume that he does this authoritatively, and appropriately, in the answer he gives to Gong Xi Hua. It would be acceptable, I think, to suggest that this is a situation in which Confucius demonstrates 知人.

    When you say “we assume __” do you mean instead “let us assume it hypothetically for purposes of this paragraph”? Or do you mean you actually believe it? Or do you mean that faithful readers of the Lunyu assume it, so that to understand the cultural object that the Lunyu eventually became, one must look at it in the light of that assumption?

    (I think the passage is in the book because the event struck his followers as noteworthy because troubling, and I think they were right to be troubled. I think the passage is a big red warning against putting too much stock in any particular remark attributed to Confucius in the Lunyu, even on the assumption that he said them all. Also I think it’s a warning sign about the quality of his thinking, and a sign that 13.3 is an interpolation.)

    When you propose that “this is a situation in which Confucius demonstrates 知人,” do you mean he was right about those people? Or do you mean that we should use the idea that he here demonstrates “知人” as a relevant piece of evidence toward understanding the meaning of his term “知” (or “知人”), even though that term does not appear in the passage at all? Do you mean that Confucius intended the whole chain of events as an exemplification of 知人? I don’t know if he was right about those people, but I would disagree with the latter two proposals.

    Maybe all of my comments have missed the point of your example.

    8 – “situationist capacity”

    You write:

    A situationist capacity might be an account of how a person has/develops a capacity for acting appropriately/successfully (whatever the terms of reference are) in particular situations. (Just because we say that someone ‘knows how to X’ doesn’t mean that they will always and in every situation X appropriately or correctly.

    (I think you didn’t mean to include the words “an account of how a person has/develops”.)

    It sounds like you mean that “situationist capacity” means “capacity (for something good).”

    Does the ability to lie effectively count as a “situational capacity”? How about the ability to torture? If those are both “situational capacities” on the grounds that they are capacities for certain kinds of success, then it seems to me there is no difference between “situational capacity” and “capacity.”

    You continue:

    Or just because we say someone has a particular virtue, doesn’t mean that that virtue is necessarily manifest in every encounter.)

    I’m not sure what sort of of point you have in mind.

    You might mean that most virtues don’t apply to all kinds of case. Someone playing a game of silent tug-of-war has no occasion to display her honesty. (That seems true.)

    Or you might mean that virtues are matters of degree: someone can be quite honest without always being honest. (That seems true.)

    Or you might mean that virtues can be limited in scope: Smith can be honest with men, but not with women. (That seems true: but I think we should not say Smith’s virtue here is honesty; I think we should say her virtue is honesty in talking with men–a far lesser virtue. And then this kind of case falls under the first category: virtues that don’t apply to all kinds of case.)

    Or you might mean that at some virtues, such as generosity, don’t place any requirement on our actions in any particular case. To be generous I have to give much and often; but for each case where I give, I could have been just as generous a person without having given in that case at all. (I guess that’s true.)

    Or you might mean that virtues are like capacities in this way: one can have a virtue without excercising it even when it would be relevant. For example, someone can be honest even though she doesn’t exercise that virtue on Tuesdays or Thursdays, but rather often lies on those days. (That seems false.)

    9 – The Three Routes

    I don’t understand the three routes (I)(II)(III) that you set out in the original post. Here’s a start.

    (I) The knowing-how route
    This account grows out from the knowing-how/knowing-that distinction. Here, we could cast the junzi’s capacities as practical … knowledge …

    a.
    I still wonder whether part of what you mean here is that we cast what it is to be a junzi (how a junzi differs from other people) mainly as capacities. If so, then (as I’ve already said way too much) I disagree. But there’s an interesting line of thought to the contrary. Suppose we accept this special theory: Everybody has certain good basic motivations, sufficient to ensure that the only thing that keeps everyone from being perfectly good is that some of us, most of us, lack certain capacities.” If we just had more capacities, we’d all have the perfect dispositions. We’d all be virtuous. So while it’s fair in any case to say that what distinguishes the junzi is precisely her good dispositions, if that special theory were true it would also be fair to say the other thing: that what distinguishes the junzi is precisely her capacities.

    b.
    Above I guessed that by “situationist epistemology” you might mean

    c1) the theory of the kinds of knowing (if any) that are integral to appropriate action.
    c2) the theory of the special kinds of knowing (if any) that are integral to appropriate action.

    and I argued that all forms of knowledge are integral to appropriate action, are integral to being a junzi. Knowing-how wouldn’t be special. Is that point, if true, a refutation of Route (I)?

    (II) The pragmatism route
    Here, again, there is a focus on the practical and, indeed, the contextual element. This account dwells centrally on encounters with and/or responses to particular situations. The vocabulary for a pragmatist account of Confucianist epistemology could include: imaginative encounters in context, inquiry and problem-solving, and reinventing tradition. Could it be that the pragmatist route is, in some versions of pragmatism, only programmatic? I ask this question because I’m not sure.

    a.
    I’m not sure whether by “pragmatism” here you mean (i) something like consequentialism, or instead (ii) something like the pragmatic theory of truth (or of correct utterance): that a statement is correct insofar as accepting it produces good consequences (or serves the ends people happen to have). 11.22 might be taken as evidence of such a view.

    b.
    If the task is to explain the kinds of knowing that are integral or specially integral to the junzi’s action, a pragmatist theory of correct utterance could be relevant insofar as what is known is the correctness of utterances (a cousin of propositional knowledge).

    c.
    I wonder whether the main difference between Routes (I) and (II) is in how innovative we take the junzi to be?

    (III) Virtue epistemology
    This framework, arising from the impetus to represent Confucian ethics as virtue ethics, has attracted some concerns that a situationist epistemology is incompatible with a virtues-based approach to character. There have been some attempts to deal with that in the literature, especially from a Confucian perspective. (I personally think this is not an insurmountable problem for Confucian ethics). Does this account ‘capture’ Confucian epistemology better than the other two?

    a.
    How might a situationist epistemology seem to be in any tension with a virtues-based approach to character? Given the way you defined “situationist epistemology,” I don’t see how such tension could be possible. You said, “I use it to query whether there is some theory of knowledge that allows us to understand appropriate action taken in particular situations.”

    b.
    Since there have been some attempts to deal with that in the literature, have I been wrong to think that this blog post is the first place the phrase “situationist epistemology” has been used in discussing Chinese philosophy?

    Reply
    • karynlai says:

      Hi Bill,

      A theory of knowledge that allows us to understand appropriate action (In response to your points 3-6)

      I’m interested in (a) whatever theory of knowledge allows us to understand appropriate action, as helpfully set out by you, but I’m also interested in your (c2) the theory of the special kinds of knowing (if any) that are integral to appropriate action.

      Where we differ is that I don’t think there is a ‘special’ kind of knowledge that is integral to appropriate action. I believe, as you say in your comments following c2, that all ordinary action assumes knowledge (in some form or another). Perhaps you call it ‘special’ because it hasn’t been explored in research? I’d like to know how this is special. I think appropriate action is conducted in everyday, ordinary situations, but I’m not sure that our theories of knowledge have captured it fully.

      And, where I think current theories of knowledge haven’t really quite “connected” with knowledge in ordinary actions/situations is where it holds knowledge can’t be wrong (here, I’m using your phrase). Hence, my point about “Just because we say that someone ‘knows how to X’ doesn’t mean that they will always and in every situation X appropriately or correctly.”
      What I’m trying to say here is that, if we begin from the assumption that knowledge ‘can’t be wrong’, then how can it be that, when we say someone knows how to ride a bike, it could happen that, on one day, she falls over on her bike? Has her knowledge gone ‘wrong’? Or is this a case of failure of knowledge? What causes the failure? Is it a case-by-case basis (for which we will need to go back to the situation)? And, as you’ve noted, could luck be involved? (I don’t know the answers to these questions at this point, and I’m keen to understand how we can plausibly understand the successes/failures).

      If it is the case that “X knows how to Y”, how can we explain that, in situation A, X can Y, but in situation B, X cannot Y?
      For example: It might be widely accepted that Gary knows how to play chess and, indeed, plays it incredibly well, so that he has a reputation as a chess expert, having won several international competitions. But how does this explain that, on one occasion, Gary makes such a glaringly bad move? (We find out later from Gary, that the bad move was not a strategic ‘bad’ move to deceive the opponent. In speaking with Gary after the game, he agrees with others that it is simply just that).
      But we don’t say, on the basis of that one occasion, that “Gary does not know how to play chess”. How many failures (however these are accounted for in a particular type of activity–this is where your treatment of ‘appropriate’ is significant (I think you’re on to something there)) before we say that? And how many ‘passes’ (successful instantiations/attempts) before we allow that someone knows how to X?

      So whether a knowing-how account, or a Pragmatist account, or a virtues-epistemological account might help us better understand this, is my question. I’m most familiar with the first framework (and it doesn’t really bother me whether my post uses ‘situationist epistemology’ for the first time, but I haven’t read it elsewhere. In fact, I would be delighted to find out if someone else has!), but not with either the second or third. Hence I want to know what possibilities there are, esp in the latter 2. So I don’t have answers to some of the questions you raise in 8 and 9 as they are exactly what I’m trying to find out.

      And on the issue of the Lunyu,
      Lunyu and junzi

      In its passages where the junzi figures, there are probably as many references to general dispositions as there are to specific actions/responses.

      egs. of specific actions: 6.4, 7.31, 8.6 etc.

      On 11.22, I think that it is a possible situation for demonstrating Confucius’ “知人”, even though that term does not appear in the passage at all?

      Reply
  5. Bill Haines says:

    I’m going to try that again, and maybe someone will be kind enough to remove the malformattted version. I apologize.
    ___________________
    Special knowledge, and what is “situationist epistemology”?

    You write,

    Where we differ is that I don’t think there is a ‘special’ kind of knowledge that is integral to appropriate action.

    I didn’t express such a view; I haven’t much thought about it. But I thought you were relying heavily on such a view, and I wanted to be open-minded.

    I defined “special” as a matter of degree: “that one or more kinds of knowing feature centrally and saliently in appropriate action and not so much elsewhere.”

    One reason to think there are kinds of knowledge special to moral (or appropriate) action is that there are concrete differences between being moral and not being moral; morality is in some sense a special task. As with bicycle repair, the knowledge it needs may center around certain topics that other tasks do not so much focus on. How to be respectful, for example, and whether racism is correct, and what it takes to be honest.

    I argued in Section 6 that it is relatively unlikely that there are kinds of knowing special to appropriate action (i.e. less likely than for moral action)—because one can be appropriate purely by accident. But before I had distinguished “appropriate” from “moral,” I did say this:

    If there is [a set of kinds of knowledge that are specially integral to appropriate action], I imagine it would be defined mainly by special topics or contents, rather than by special forms of knowing [knowing-how, etc]. But I don’t know, and the question looks to me like a very interesting and very important one.

    I meant, if there are special kinds of knowledge, the question whether they are distinguished by form or (as I suspect) just content would be interesting and important.

    Here’s why I had thought you were relying on an idea that some kinds of knowledge are special to appropriate action. Suppose you were not. Suppose, as you’re now maybe suggesting, by “situationist epistemology” you mean just (a):

    (a) whatever theory of knowledge allows us to understand appropriate action.

    If that’s “situationist epistemology,” I had asked myself, then what’s the difference between “situationist epistemology” and “epistemology”? And nothing came to mind.

    So now I’ll have to think harder!

    Maybe what you mean is that situationist epistemology is

    (a1) whatever theory of knowledge agents could (or do) use to understand how to act appropriately?

    That would be different from epistemology-in-general.

    You write, “it doesn’t really bother me whether my post uses ‘situationist epistemology’ for the first time, but I haven’t read it elsewhere.”

    It doesn’t bother me either—except that if you introduce a new term, it’s meaningless unless and until you set out a meaning for the reader.

    “can’t be wrong” again

    I have to admit that I think you are right to worry about that desideratum for theories of knowledge. I don’t feel I understand the matter.

    (I apologize for completely misunderstanding your statement that I responded to at the end of my section 1.)

    Here’s how I would respond to the particular points you raise.

    What I’m trying to say here is that, if we begin from the assumption that knowledge ‘can’t be wrong’, then how can it be that, when we say someone knows how to ride a bike, it could happen that, on one day, she falls over on her bike? Has her knowledge gone ‘wrong’? Or is this a case of failure of knowledge?

    To respond, I want to digress first to a superficially analogous issue.

    Suppose Smith argues against the truth criterion for propositional knowledge as follows: “When we say that someone knows that p, p still might turn out to be false. Happens all the time. So knowledge doesn’t imply truth.”

    Smith’s argument is bad. For we can be mistaken in saying someone knows that p. She herself can be mistaken in thinking that she knows that p. That is not a counterexample to the claim that necessarily, if someone knows that p, p is true.

    Smith’s argument is perfectly analogous to this bad argument: “Often when we say that p is true, it turns out we were wrong, and p is false. Therefore ‘p is true’ doesn’t imply that p is true.” Smith’s premise is very solidly correct: lots of what we think and say turns out to be false. But Smith’s conclusion is wildly wrong.

    But you’re not making that sort of argument, though you say, “how can it be that, when we say someone knows…”. For one thing, you’re not here talking about propositional knowledge. For another thing, you mean “When we say someone knows how … but she messes up, we don’t then automatically say ‘Oops, she must not have known after all.’”

    What your bicycle and chess examples do succeed in showing, I think, is that we have no clear concept of what criterion for “knowing how to φ” would be parallel or analogous to the truth criterion for “knowing that p”. One might still want to hold that although there’s no clear standard of that sort, that doesn’t mean there’s no vague standard of that sort. Maybe something like this: “If someone knows how to φ, she does φ whenever she fully tries.”

    Why is there no clear standard of that sort?

    One reason is that such phrases as “know how to ride a bicycle” (unlike such phrases as “know that Paris is the capital of France”) don’t sharply specify what is known. A fall might come from lacking some knowing that the speaker didn’t intend to claim: how to manage sharp turns, potholes as big as that one, how to handle the stresses of automobile traffic, how to ride well in general, how to ride a bicycle that is locked when she doesn’t have the key, how to keep her focus (keep fully trying) for a whole hour, etc.

    “I said she knows how to ride a bike, and as we saw she didn’t know how to do that (a sharp turn, etc.), but I never meant she knew how to do that. That’s not what I was saying she knew. What she knows how to do, she does whenever she tries.”

    I think what your examples point to is the great difficulty of spelling out a satisfactory dispositional analysis of knowing how to φ. I mean an analysis of the kind exemplified by these two (unsatisfactory) examples:

    A knows how to φ = whenever A tries to φ, she φs.
    A knows how to φ = whenever she φs, she φs well.

    But even if we had a satisfactory dispositional analysis, that wouldn’t suggest that dispositions such as honesty can be understood as cases of knowing how. There’s still all the difference in the world between knowing how to be honest, and being honest.

    the question

    But we don’t say, on the basis of that one occasion, that “Gary does not know how to play chess”. How many failures (however these are accounted for in a particular type of activity–this is where your treatment of ‘appropriate’ is significant (I think you’re on to something there)) before we say that? And how many ‘passes’ (successful instantiations/attempts) before we allow that someone knows how to X?
    So whether a knowing-how account, or a Pragmatist account, or a virtues-epistemological account might help us better understand this, is my question.

    Are you saying here that basically the whole question of the original post, the question the Three Routes (I)(II)(III) are routes to, is about how to spell out an account of what kind of going-wrong would show that the person did not in fact know how to ride a bicycle, or play chess, or whatever? That would be an account of what kind of wrongness someone who knows how can’t have. In other words, that question starts from the premise that someone who knows can’t be wrong, and asks for the details regarding knowing-how.

    I think there’s not much reason to expect a good general answer, because what kind of claim one is making when one says that someone “knows how to ride a bicycle” depends very much on the context—on what kinds of cases, what level of skill, what class of obstacle, the conversants have in mind.

    (A different question about knowing-how would be about what, if anything, corresponds in “knowing how” to the justification or warrant or tracking that is a criterion for propositional knowledge.)

    In any case the question seems to me to have nothing in particular to do with ethics or the junzi or the Analects.

    Or maybe the question of your post is not that question about knowing-how, but rather the similar question about知 in the Analects, for the cases where it refers to knowing-how (I think the two good candidates are 5.22 and 19.24), or else more broadly for the cases where it is not referring to propositional knowledge. And only where the junzi is involved?

    Lunyu and junzi

    You write:

    In its passages where the junzi figures, there are probably as many references to general dispositions as there are to specific actions/responses.
    egs. of specific actions: 6.4, 7.31, 8.6 etc.

    The basic issue was whether, in connection with the “junzi,” the Analects foregrounds actions rather than dispositions or competences. To support that point, really there should be much more mention of actions and not dispositions, than mention of dispositions. I think the extreme opposite is the case. Here you mention three passages. I’ll use Legge’s translations from the Chinese Text Project, but preserve ‘junzi’.

    6.4: Zi Hua being employed on a mission to Qi, the disciple Ran requested grain for his mother. The Master said, “Give her a fu.” Ran requested more. “Give her an yu,” said the Master. Ran gave her five bing. The Master said, “When Chi was proceeding to Qi, he had fat horses to his carriage, and wore light furs. I have heard that a junzi helps the distressed, but does not add to the wealth of the rich.”
    子華使於齊,冉子為其母請粟。子曰:「與之釜。」請益。曰:「與之庾。」冉子與之粟五秉。子曰:「赤之適齊也,乘肥馬,衣輕裘。吾聞之也,君子周急不繼富。」

    Here some particular actions of a non-junzi are mentioned, and Confucius’ response is that they do not fit the dispositions of a junzi.

    7.31: The minister of crime of Chen asked whether the duke Zhao knew propriety, and Confucius said, “He knew propriety.” Confucius having retired, the minister bowed to Wu Ma Qi to come forward, and said, “I have heard that the junzi is not a partisan. May the junzi be a partisan also? The prince married a daughter of the house of Wu, of the same surname with himself, and called her, ‘The elder Zi of Wu.’ If the prince knew propriety, who does not know it?” Wu Ma Qi reported these remarks, and the Master said, “I am fortunate! If I have any errors, people are sure to know them.”
    陳司敗問昭公知禮乎?孔子曰:「知禮。」孔子退,揖巫馬期而進之,曰:「吾聞君子不黨,君子亦黨乎?君取於吳為同姓,謂之吳孟子。君而知禮,孰不知禮?」巫馬期以告。子曰:「丘也幸,苟有過,人必知之。」

    Here the junzi is discussed by someone who may not count as a spokesman for “the Analects”. What the person says is that the junzi has a certain general attitude or disposition (he will not do things of very broad type P). Confucius does not dispute the point.

    8.6: The philosopher Zeng said, “Suppose that there is an individual who can be entrusted with the charge of a young orphan prince, and can be commissioned with authority over a state of a hundred li, and whom no emergency however great can drive from his principles – is such a man a junzi? He is a junzi indeed.”
    曾子曰:「可以託六尺之孤,可以寄百里之命,臨大節而不可奪也。君子人與?君子人也。」

    Here Zengzi speaks of someone’s actions regarding the junzi. The point seems to be that the junzi is reliable in that sort of case. Such reliability looks to me like a disposition, not an action.

    Reply
  6. karynlai says:

    Hello Bill,

    Back after attending to heaps of administrative duties!!

    On a ‘special’ kind of knowledge and appropriateness:

    Thanks for helping me dig deeper into the idea of appropriateness. Like you, I do think there’s something in appropriate action that is deeply connected with (a) content and (b) a person’s abilities to deal with the content.


    If there is a ‘situationist epistemology,’ what is it?

    It would be a theory of knowledge that explained how a person’s know-how sometimes succeeds, and sometimes fails–as in the case of my chess master e.g. And that, I suspect, would take into account (a) and (b) above and, very likely, more.

    I don’t know that current epistemological theories explain this phenomenon–hence I really appreciate your analysis that extends the bicycle and chess examples. I think, at the very least, they demonstrate both the vagueness and the complexity in what we call ‘know-how’–both in ordinary language and philosophical discourse. Katherine Hawley has a very interesting paper on “Success and Knowledge-how“.

    “Are you saying here that basically the whole question of the original post, the question the Three Routes (I)(II)(III) are routes to, is about how to spell out an account of what kind of going-wrong would show that the person did not in fact know how to ride a bicycle, or play chess, or whatever? That would be an account of what kind of wrongness someone who knows how can’t have. In other words, that question starts from the premise that someone who knows can’t be wrong, and asks for the details regarding knowing-how.”

    Not really. Route (I) could set out the problem this way. I’m not sure how routes (II) and (III) would set out the problem. How would a pragmatist understand appropriate (and ‘inappropriate’) action? How would a virtue epistemologist understand appropriate (and ‘inappropriate’) action?

    Does the Analects talk about appropriate/inappropriate action? I believe it does. But I’ll think about the passages on the junzi. Perhaps the idea of appropriate action extends beyond the junzi figure.

    Reply
  7. Bill Haines says:

    Hi Karyn!

    ‘Situationist epistemology’ and the three Routes

    You say that by ‘situationist epistemology’ you mean “a theory of knowledge that explain[s] how a person’s know-how sometimes succeeds, and sometimes fails–as in the case of my chess master.”

    So situationist epistemology is the addressing of a certain question about knowing how. That seems to imply that any conceptual scheme for situationist epistemology must put the notion of “knowing how” right at the center.

    In the original post, after introducing Routes (I)(II)(III), you seem to imply that you mean them as three “viable conceptual schemes for a situationist epistemology.” And in setting out Route (I), the main thing you seem to say about this Route—about, I guess, how it is supposed to differ from the others—is that it centers on the notion of “knowing how.”

    So it looks like either your latest definition of ‘situationist epistemology’ doesn’t capture what you really mean by that term, or else you are not proposing (I)(II)(III) as three candidate approaches to situationist epistemology?

    Or maybe you mean that while all three Routes address the question about knowing how, Route (I) addresses it based on semantic analysis of the phrase “know how,” while the other Routes address it on other grounds?

    Hawley and “situationist epistemology”

    Thank you for pointing me to Katherine Hawley’s paper, available to anyone by the link you give. I hadn’t seen it.

    It seems to me that the paper defends against one main objection the general view that knowing-how has a condition roughly analogous to the true belief condition of propositional knowledge: IF someone knows how to φ, THEN: whenever she were to try to φ, she would φ—or at least, she would have a high probability of φ-ing.

    The main objection is to cite the innumerable easy counterexamples to show that sometimes people who know how to φ try and fail to φ, or would fail to φ if they tried. The reply is that when we say that someone “knows how to φ,” what we mean is that she knows how to “φ given certain tacitly understood circumstances.” For example, when we sigh that the amputee knows how to ride a bike but no longer can, “knows how to ride a bike” really means “knows how to: ride a bike if having two legs, etc.” In general, arguably, the tacitly understood conditions don’t obtain in the examples of failure.

    The reply might be right, but I’m not quite convinced. I might post a comment about this later.

    Against putative counterexamples where it seems that the understood conditions do obtain, Hawley retreats by adding the “probability” clause that I included above.

    (Hawley distinguishes her proposal from a similar “dispositional” proposal, which I imagine must be an old and familiar idea, in a way that I think is wondrously subtle at best, on p. 13 of the text given by your link.)

    Karyn, you say a “situationist epistemology” would be “a theory of knowledge that explained how a person’s know-how sometimes succeeds, and sometimes fails.”

    That account of what is to be explained is highly abbreviated. I’m not sure what you’re trying to convey.

    (i)
    You might be thinking that Hawley is wrong. Know-how is not tied to success in the way she says. But it might be tied to success in some more indirect way (that allows for frequent failure even under the understood conditions), and a situationist epistemology would describe that way.

    (ii)
    You might be thinking that Hawley is right, but her probability clause allows for the possibility of failure by the knower, and so raises the question of how to explain the kinds of failure that even Hawley would regard as consistent with knowing how.

    (iii)
    You might be thinking that a “situationist epistemology” would study mainly the dimensions of vagueness of e.g. “ride a bicycle” in the phrase “know how to ride a bicycle.”

    (iv)
    Something else?

    *

    I have a separate worry about Hawley’s paper. This is an issue that I know you are alive to (except maybe in your definition of situationist epistemology).

    Plain Fact A: Ordinary language speaks of “knowing” how to do this or that.
    Plain Fact B: Ordinary language avoids speaking of “knowledge how” to do this or that.

    Why think that knowing how might be interestingly analogous to propositional knowledge, or that it should be a concern of epistemology (sometimes defined as the theory of knowledge)? I submit that a main reason, at least for Anglophone thinkers, is Plain Fact A, combined with a respect for ordinary English.

    If we consider that reason and are inclined to be moved by it, can we fail to notice Plain Fact B? If we respect ordinary English, can we fail to care about Plain Fact B?

    Hawley seems not to have noticed Plain Fact B. She speaks throughout of “knowledge how,” and on her first page she argues from the denial of Plain Fact B: “[K]nowledge-how is interesting qua species of knowledge – when set alongside theories of propositional knowledge, enquiry into other forms of knowledge promises to shed light on the nature of knowledge quite generally.”

    Just because it appears that Plain Fact B has never come to Hawley’s attention, I think it may never have been mentioned in the literature (not even by Ryle)—at least up to the time Hawley wrote the paper, around 2002. Karyn, is that true? I think it would be remarkable.

    What do other languages have to show us?

    Lunyu

    You write,
    “Does the Analects talk about appropriate/inappropriate action? I believe it does. But I’ll think about the passages on the junzi. Perhaps the idea of appropriate action extends beyond the junzi figure.”

    Those aren’t issues I had raised or discussed.

    I thought the general issue we were discussing in connection with these passages was not whether the Analects talks about appropriate action (in either sense). I thought the general issue we were discussing in connection with these passages was your proposal that in talking about what it is to be a junzi, the Analects foregrounds his actions rather than dispositions or competencies. I disagreed, claiming that what the Analects foregrounds in connection with the junzi is dispositions (often described in terms of kinds of action, and often instead presented simply by way of names for qualities of character).

    Regarding my claim that in connection with the junzi, the Analects foregrounds dispositions: this claim does not imply or suggest that the Analects does not talk about appropriate/inappropriate action.

    When you use the word ‘appropriate’ in your comments, I usually don’t know whether you do mean appropriate–i.e. what that English word actually means—or instead are doing something I take to be very different (as I argued above): using the word as code for yi 義.

    You write, “Perhaps the idea of appropriate action extends beyond the junzi figure.”

    I have to admit that the idea that it might not extend beyond the junzi figure (for either sense of ‘appropriate’) hadn’t occurred to me even as an idea. Offhand I can’t think of any sign of such an idea in the Analects. I think the junzi and yi 義 action and appropriate action are in fact three different topics. I think Confucius is commenting directly on the third topic at 3.2, but not commenting directly on either of the other two topics there.

    Reply
    • karynlai says:

      Hi Bill,
      Thanks once again for your comments! Just briefly on your questions:


      ‘Situationist epistemology’ and the three Routes

      Or maybe you mean that while all three Routes address the question about knowing how, Route (I) addresses it based on semantic analysis of the phrase “know how,” while the other Routes address it on other grounds?

      Yes. this is the one I’m familiar with (see my original post), and I was hoping to get more clarity on the other two.


      Hawley and “situationist epistemology”

      In general, arguably, the tacitly understood conditions don’t obtain in the examples of failure….The reply might be right, but I’m not quite convinced. I might post a comment about this later.

      Keen to hear what you think

      Karyn, you say a “situationist epistemology” would be “a theory of knowledge that explained how a person’s know-how sometimes succeeds, and sometimes fails.”
      (ii)
      You might be thinking that Hawley is right, but her probability clause allows for the possibility of failure by the knower, and so raises the question of how to explain the kinds of failure that even Hawley would regard as consistent with knowing how.

      (ii) is closest to what I’m thinking.

      I have a separate worry about Hawley’s paper. On ordinary language and “knowledge how” to do this or that.

      This is not my territory at all. But in conversations with my collaborator, Stephen Hetherington, it seems that there is a deliberate use of the phrase among those who work in the area (see, e.g., the SEP entry on knowledge how). Its intention is not to reflect ordinary language use but to address the intellectualist thesis that, in its strongest terms, holds that all knowledge-how is reducible to knowledge that. I don’t know enough to say or answer more on this, but it’s not just an oddity in Hawley’s paper.

      Lunyu

      My ‘beyond the junzi’ is actually quite simple; I’m just saying that I will extend my investigation beyond a scrutiny of the junzi figure, to look at yi 義, and more.

      Reply
  8. Bill Haines says:

    Hi Karyn,

    Thanks – these replies clarify a great deal for me. For example, I see that my harping on the Analects point reflected a misunderstanding of your recent comments. I’m sorry.

    We agree that Hawley’s speaking of “knowledge how” is not an oddity in the literature: that was my complaint about the literature.

    I think you are saying that in using the phrase “knowledge how,” writers in the area recognize that they are departing from ordinary language, and they do this to make the point that know-how is a kind of knowledge. I suspect that’s not the case, or mostly not the case. Here are three reasons:

    1.
    Ryle uses the phrase uncritically in the 1945 paper where he first prominently introduced and discussed the knowing-that/knowing-how distinction. (Hawley seems to say the big moment was 1949, in Concept of Mind; my copy is packed away.)

    2.
    I’m not aware of anything in the literature that suggests that people have noticed that the phrase is potentially problematic. Because I’m largely ignorant of the literature, this fact is a negligible reason; but under someone else’s name it might be weighty.

    3.
    IF a philosopher had actually noticed that in ordinary language know-how is not called “knowledge” but she wanted to say nevertheless that know-how is a kind of “knowledge,” she would presumably notice that in saying so, she would (very probably) be using “knowledge” in a non-ordinary sense, which means she would recognize that she has to flag that point (and define that term). Which doesn’t happen, I think.

    I think the third reason is pretty powerful.

    I also think it’s not unusual for a philosophical conversation to overlook, for decades, something utterly obvious near the heart of its concern. Philosophy is hard; it messes with the mind. So on second thought, I was wrong to say, above, that anyone who considers Fact A will notice Fact B. It’s just that they really should. Situation normal …

    I think it’s nice to find goofs in prominent philosophy: it encourages the rest of us, and reminds us that philosophy is something to do rather than something to learn.

    (What drew my attention to e.g. the potential for a distinction between knowing and knowledge was that in working on what it is for something to “represent” something, I noticed that the class of cases where we say there is “representation” is narrower than the class of cases where we say one thing “represents” another. And it’s tricky to say what the distinction is.)

    What Fact B does not challenge, of course, is that knowing how is a kind of knowing. And philosophers’ carelessness about the word ‘knowledge’ in this context might not introduce any error other than to exaggerate slightly the strength of the appearance that our language suggests a parallel between knowing that and knowing how. But to pin down the implications of Plain Fact B, I think one would have to look more generally at how ordinary English distinguishes what it will and what it won’t call “knowledge.” (Ordinary language also doesn’t use “knowledge” to refer to acquaintance with people, as in “Do you know each other?”)

    More later on other points.

    Reply
  9. Bill Haines says:

    So—I think you’re saying in effect that a pretty good illustrative example of the kind of thing you’re asking about, the kind of thing situationist epistemology and the three Routes hope to address, is Hawley’s example of knowing that doesn’t guarantee counterfactual success:

    Sandra is a highly competent baker, who knows how to make delicious bread. Of course, she would not succeed if no raw materials were available, or if she had her hands tied behind her back, but such counterfactual failure doesn’t seem to count against her: she knows how to make delicious bread under normal bread-making circumstances. Even so, it might seem that she doesn’t satisfy the counterfactual success condition for knowledge-how, because occasionally she fails to make delicious bread when she tries, even under quite ordinary circumstances.

    I’m guessing the underlying thought is that there are some kinds of thing that affect the quality of the bread but are simply inaccessible to our awareness and/or control. Imperceptible seismic tremors may affect the mood of the yeast; fluctuations in the power grid may ruin the timing, etc.

    Offhand it seems to me that the disciplines relevant to explaining when she succeeds and when she fails would be the study of earthquakes and of power grids, rather than any kind of epistemology or pragmatism.

    Reply
    • karynlai says:

      Hi Bill,

      Thanks for your thoughts on Hawley. When you say: “I’m guessing the underlying thought is that there are some kinds of thing that affect the quality of the bread but are simply inaccessible to our awareness and/or control. Imperceptible seismic tremors may affect the mood of the yeast; fluctuations in the power grid may ruin the timing, etc. Offhand it seems to me that the disciplines relevant to explaining when she succeeds and when she fails would be the study of earthquakes and of power grids, rather than any kind of epistemology or pragmatism.” regarding Sandra, does it take into account that the Sandra example has buffered itself against this, by the clause “even under quite ordinary circumstances”?

      The ‘ordinary circumstances’ phrase plays quite a significant role in some of the knowing-how discussions. This is important, as Sandra’s case is used to point out that it is not about earthquakes but, all things being equal, why, on a certain day, the bread turns out better than on another. I think the focus is on “things inaccessible to our awareness”–or, rather, to Sandra’s (in terms of what/how she knows), rather than what is beyond her control.

      Incidentally, I came across two articles related to the discussions to date on this post:

      First, “Beyond mere knowledge of mathematics: The importance of knowing-to act in the moment,” that discusses some of the gaps in conceptions of knowledge when it comes to actually dealing with tasks.

      Secondly, an article by Aaron Stalnaker on virtue-skill-mastery, “VIRTUE AS MASTERY IN EARLY CONFUCIANISM

      Reply
    • Bill Haines says:

      Hi Karyn,

      Thanks–I haven’t yet followed those links.

      You ask,
      does it take into account that the Sandra example has buffered itself against this, by the clause ‘even under quite ordinary circumstances’?

      Yes, I think it does take that clause into account. My defense of this claim fills the rest of this comment.

      (i) Hawley’s overall theory is roughly that Smith’s “knowing how to φ” implies that Smith would in fact φ were she to try under certain understood circumstances (whatever the conversants happen to intend, though what’s most easily understood tacitly is some kind of ordinary circumstance, or ordinary for triers-to-φ—which might be highly counterfactual circumstances in the case of Smith, such as her having two legs and a bicycle though in fact she manifestly doesn’t). So, commonly, given that someone knows how to φ, what explains her success or failure to φ if she tries is whether the understood circumstances obtain.

      (An obvious problem with the theory in (i) is that it doesn’t look especially falsifiable in principle. Any prima facie counterexample, i.e. any real or counterfactual failure of Smith to φ upon trying, could be alleged to be due to the non-obtaining of key features of the tacitly understood circumstances.)

      (ii) More precisely, Hawley’s theory is more modest: it is that Smith’s “knowing how to φ” implies only that if she were to try, then probably she would φ.

      What would make the theory in (ii) not scrub all appearance of empirical content from the theory in (i)? One answer, the one that grounds my guess about the kind of problem Hawley’s Sandra might face, is that some kinds of circumstance cannot be intended by the conversants: kinds that we don’t know about. Maybe my examples of circumstances (the absence of small tremors etc) were poor ones; let’s use this: to succeed at breadmaking, Sandra needs the absence of a certain kind of (infrequent ephemeral subtle) solar radiation that triggers a bad flavor. Something nobody can take into account, and something nobody knows about. For many or most activities φ, there are unknown circumstances that can interfere untraceably with the success of our attempts to φ, even if we “know how to φ.”

      Your objection is that where these odd interfering circumstances obtain, we are not in ordinary circumstances. Necessarily so, since ex hypothesi they odd circumstances obtain in only a minority of cases. For when Sandra tries, she probably φs.

      One reply is that every circumstance includes extremely uncommon circumstances. (How common is it that your coffee cup is exactly where it is right now?) Any particular circumstance that falls within any class of circumstances is full of highly rare circumstances. If we understand “ordinary circumstances” to refer to some class of circumstances that might be understood as ordinary, as intended, among conversants, then it does not rule out the kind of solar radiation I described. That’s the whole reason for the Sandra example.

      To put it another way: to suppose that “ordinary circumstances” obtain can’t be to suppose that there is nothing extraordinary in the circumstances. That wouldn’t make sense. Rather, it’s to suppose that circumstances are ordinary in certain understood respects.

      Another conceivable reading of the clause is that Hawley means to be talking about cases where there is no external obstacle to e.g. Sandra’s making bread. When Sandra tries, she could still fail but only because of something internal to her. Not something like the number of kneading hands she has, but rather something in her mind—as in Part V of Eliot’s “The Hollow Men.” Between the trying and the proper motions falls the shadow. Is this how you read Hawley?

      Reply
      • karynlai says:

        Thanks for these comments, Bill. I’ll need some time to think through them.

        In the meantime, I have found discussions of ‘situationism’ or ‘situationists’–apparently, in research in social psychology. This has been taken up by philosophers on virtue ethics. As you can see, the discussion is not that recent (2004): u.arizona.edu/~kamtekar/papers/situationism.pdf

        Within Confucianism, here’s an article that specifically addresses the topic, with the title “Situationism and Confucian Virtue Ethics

        Reply
        • Bill Haines says:

          Thanks Karyn! That’s the sort of thing I had in mind by “situationism2” in my first comment above, though I’m not very familiar with it. Is this roughly what you mean by “situationist”?

          Reply

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